Thursday, September 12, 2019
Amy Howe, a former contributor at SCOTUSblog, is conducting a podcast series with notable Supreme Court oral advocates. The first in the series to be interviewed was Paul Smith who has argued twenty-one cases before the Court. Smith discusses his first appearance in the Court in 1986, pre-Scalia days, and how things have changed. He says that it used to be common for the petitioner to take three or four minutes to frame the facts, before having to field any questions. Today, a concise opening statement of less than two minutes is imperative if one wishes to have any hope of framing the argument at all.
His preparation for arguments is not mysterious. He rereads all the briefs, tries to anticipates the hard questions, drafts a short outline of his intended argument, and most importantly conducts numerous moot courts. He emphasizes that a memorized but not rehearsed-sounding opening is important. He recalls Justice Rehnquist interrupting opposing counsel during one argument with the interjection, "Are you reading?!" flustering the other attorney so much that he barely recovered.
Smith argued the landmark case of Lawrence v. Texas, and recalls getting questions from Justice Scalia that he had not anticipated nor had anyone in his moot preparations hit upon during practice. Smith says all one can do in that situation is hope that you can come up with something sensible, and perhaps get lucky with a friendly justice who may intervene. However, he states that if a thorough moot court preparation has been undertaken, it is usually the case that an answer can be formed that is consistent and coherent with your position.
As for strategies when taking the respondents' position, Smith says there is not much time to take notes. An advocate must just listen and make one decision - where to start. When contemplating rebuttal, an additional decision should be made - whether to make one at all. Many times those who make rebuttal often wish they had not stood up.
The series can be found at SCOTUStalk and the episodes are less than twenty minutes long.